We'll talk about these three men together because they were contemporaries in the late 80's and early 90's, and regardless of their nominal position--outside linebacker in a 3-4, defensive end in a 4-3, they filled the same role throughout their careers: pass rush specialist. As I noted last year when talking about Derrick Thomas for the Hall of Fame, there were only six outside linebackers (now seven) who began their careers since 1950 who are in the Hall of Fame. More defensive linemen are in, but these three players are part of the generation that came of age right after the sack became an official statistic and began to define and quantify pass rushers.
In the last decade, we have seen two dominant all-around defensive ends who racked up high sack totals, Reggie White and Bruce Smith, go into the Hall. In the last two years, Derrick Thomas, Fred Dean and Andre Tippett have also been selected. These three players were not slam dunks, and they certainly don't give us enough precedent to know how the selectors are going to handle the post-1982 generation of pass rushers.
How will they view players who were known at times in their career as one-dimensional and focused on their sack totals? What will matter more, high peak, or longevity of getting consistent sack totals? How much will rings and post-season success outweigh raw sack totals?
Doleman, Greene and Haley's chances depend on the answers to those questions. All three were, at various times, game changers for the opponent to plan around, and team changers because they caused a few too many headaches in their own locker room or groused over their contracts. Like wide receivers who needed the spotlight, these three represent a new breed of pass rusher that came with the official tallying of taking the quarterback to the ground, and their tradition is carried forward by the various dances of the sack specialists today.
Here is a statistical summary of these three players:
We'll start with Charles Haley. If rings are the things, then we all know that Haley accumulated the most, and between the 1988 and 1995 seasons, he was on a Super Bowl champion team five times. Still, when we look at sack totals and tackle totals, Haley comes up well short of Doleman and Greene. Was this a case of Haley's contribution not being fully captured by his sack totals, and injuries robbing him of tacking on sack totals late in a career, or was he just in the right place at the right time?
Haley played outside linebacker in a 3-4 system with the San Fransisco 49ers. Through age 26, Charles Haley was a dominant pass rusher. His 56.5 sacks by that age ranks tied for fourth all-time for players since the sack became an official stat. In 1991, he had his first single digit sack season in four seasons with San Fransisco, and he also wore out his welcome with his surly behavior in the locker room. He was traded to the up and coming Dallas Cowboys before the 1992 season, and moved to defensive end in the 4-3 system that Dallas operated. While he gained notoriety as a ring maker in his first two seasons in Dallas, as the Cowboys knocked off his old teammates in two straight NFC title games, his sack totals continued to plummet. He ranked outside the top 12 on the team in tackles both years, and only third on Dallas both seasons in sacks, behind the other less renowned defensive end, Tony Tolbert, and Jim Jeffcoat, by then a veteran pass rush specialist. Haley was slowed in the second season in Dallas by a back injury, and he bounced back in 1994 and 1995 to record double digit sacks in both seasons. That was basically it for Haley, as an injury felled him in 1996, and he would start only 5 games and record only 4 sacks after 1995. Though he was the youngest of the three, he didn't last as long. In a survey conducted before the '95 season about future Hall of Famers, only a small minority of those writers polled had Haley as a Hall of Famer. As he didn't add much to his resume after that season, I'm not sure if that one additional season was enough to change minds, or if the passage of time has softened people's views of his personality. He was on pace for a Hall of Fame career, but the three consecutive seasons with low sack totals at ages 27-29 (ironically, two of which resulted in Super Bowl victories and cemented his legend as a championship player) probably leave him just lacking. If he had been more dominant through age 30, then I think the voters would forgive his quick demise and focus on the rings. As it is, I'm not sure he did quite enough to make the rings make up the difference.
Whereas Haley was an early peaker, Kevin Greene withstood age and continued to find employment in different cities as a pass rush specialist well into his thirties. With his noticeable flowing blonde locks and over the top personality that included friendships with Ric Flair and a sideline scuffle with a position coach, Greene was a true character of the game. He was often enamored with his own sack totals and knew what he needed to reach milestones. If this were baseball, his career sack totals and longevity would be a milestone that would get him in the Hall. But it's not, so he is not guaranteed a place in Canton based on numbers alone.
Still, where Charles Haley fell off when changing teams, Greene thrived in numerous roles and situations. He didn't record his first double digit sack season until age 26, but would get at least 9 sacks in every season he played after turning 30, for four different organizations. Haley may be well-known for his five rings, but Greene's teams played in five conference championship games. Considering that he didn't exactly play with 2010 HOF Semifinalists Jerry Rice (okay, yes he did play with Rice for one season in 1997) and Emmitt Smith on the other side of the ball, I don't think post-season accomplishments are a negative for Greene.
In 1992, Greene played one season as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme, and Dr. Z named him as an all-pro OLB, noting that "[Greene] had more coverage responsibility than ever before, and he did just fine. He was a consistent pass rusher." Dr. Z's selection, hardly a no brainer at the time, proved prescient, as Greene would be THE consistent pass rush specialist of the next five years. Later, Dr. Z would name Greene as one of the top ten pass rushers of all-time, on a list that included players from before 1982.
Greene isn't a lock, and his persona may turn some off, but I don't much care if he was focused on getting sacks and concerned about his numbers and showboating. Sacks are important and help teams win, and for a stretch, Greene did a lot of helping teams win even if he was focused on marketing himself as well.
The last player of this group, like Greene and Haley, also eventually wore out his welcome and changed teams despite his sack proclivity. If Haley was early success and Greene was consistent longevity, then Doleman has the highest peak going for him. In the late 1980's, he teamed with Keith Millard to form the best inside/outside combination at defensive line. In the 1987 playoffs, the duo helped destroy the Saints, and then manhandled the feared 49ers to the point that Joe Montana was benched halfway through in favor of some guy named Steve Young. Two years later, Doleman reached 21 sacks in the regular season. He recorded over 90 tackles in three straight seasons from 1989 to 1991, showing that he wasn't just all about sacks and nothing else. From 1987 to 1993, he played in six pro bowls and was on at least one publication's all-pro or all-conference team in six of those seven seasons. After 1993, though, the Vikings traded their star defensive end to the Atlanta Falcons. His stay in Atlanta was somewhat disappointing initially, and it remains about the only tarnish on his otherwise illustrious career. He was selected to a pro bowl for the seventh time in 1995 as the Falcons reached the playoffs as a wildcard. After that, he was pretty much a pass rush specialist, finishing his career with three seasons in San Fransisco (including with Greene in 1997) and returned to Minnesota for his final year. All told, Doleman's teams made the playoffs ten times during his career, but he never reached the Super Bowl and only played in a conference championship game twice.
These three players are likely going to be viewed together during this selection process, and with such a strong class of candidates headlined by two slam dunks, it's doubtful that more than one would get consideration in 2010. Three pass rushers have gone in over the last two years, so there may not be the urgency to induct one of these guys right away. Doleman has the career comparables that suggest he will end up in Canton. Greene has the numbers. Haley has the rings. I think Haley is out, and Doleman and Greene are decent candidates, but not mortal locks, based on who else is in.
Chances that one of them is selected in 2010: Collectively, average to below average, with Doleman having the best chance.
Chances that Chris Doleman eventually gets selected: Very Good
Chances that Kevin Greene eventually gets selected: Average to Good
Chances that Charles Haley eventually gets selected: Below Average
This entry was posted on Sunday, January 3rd, 2010 at 9:17 am and is filed under HOF, Player articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.